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Get Your Game On With Sony’s Xperia Play Android Phone

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 29-05-2011

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Where most slider phones have a keyboard, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play sports Playstation controls. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com.

Mothers, lock up your gamers. The PlayStation phone has arrived.

And while it’s a bit on the chubby side, we think that, for Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play, big is beautiful.

You could almost call the Xperia Play the shorter, fatter cousin to the svelte Xperia Arc, which Sony Ericsson once described as the “world’s thinnest smartphone.” At .62 inches, the Play looks positively bulky compared to its Xperia-line relatives — a veritable Jan Brady to the Arc’s Marcia.

But Sony Ericsson had to make some trade-offs in size in order for the slide-out frame to hide the PlayStation controller underneath. If you’re a gamer, it’s worth it. We felt right at home with the familiar PlayStation controller configuration — D-pad on the left, with the square, circle, triangle and X buttons on the right.

And unlike other, flimsier slider phones, the plastic hardware isn’t chintzy. The Play still feels sturdy in hand, even in its open position, and most likely won’t break under the pressure of an excited gamer’s grip.

Instead of the centered joysticks found on a PS3 controller, two pressure-sensitive touchpads take their place. So rather than hog up precious screen real estate steering with your fingers on games that require touch-sensitive direction, you can use the two physical touchpads. It’s a nifty concept, and fairly well-executed. The games I played that utilize the pads were decent enough in reaction time, though I found the sensitivity a bit wanting.

The phone comes bundled with seven games, though only one was exclusive to the Play: Crash Bandicoot. It’s a PS One classic, and I was psyched to see it on the roster. But if I’m buying the long-awaited PlayStation phone, I want it to be running PlayStation games. Plural.

When I asked if Sony Ericsson would continue publishing PlayStation classics to the Xperia Play, the answer was cagey, though promising: “It’s the first step we’re taking down this path.” I’ve got my fingers crossed for a Twisted Metal port by the end of the year.

I actually enjoyed the experience of gaming on the Play. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was playing a game slapped onto a phone interface. It feels like a standalone portable gaming device. That’s no easy feat to accomplish.

Polygons rendered beautifully on the Play’s 4-inch capacitive touch screen, which was plenty big enough to view the games we played. I did wonder if I’d be wanting more screen surface area while playing a first-person shooter like Call of Duty (or if we really wanted to get old school, Doom) — but since those games aren’t available for the Xperia Play, it’s a moot point for now.

You might think the Play is underpowered, given that its processor is a single-core, 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, not the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor found in many recent smartphone and tablet offerings. But that’s not the case: the Play ran games and rendered menu screens like a charm. We didn’t experience any noticeable lag while gaming, nor while running Google’s proprietary smartphone apps like Gmail or Calendar.

Oh, and did we mention that the Xperia Play is also an Android phone? Because it is, and not a shabby one at that. Over the five days we spent with the phone, Verizon’s network coverage was ample. From Seattle to San Francisco, we didn’t experience any dropped calls or have much of a problem finding a signal. One big bummer, however: The phone uses Verizon’s 3G network, not the newer, faster 4G network.

Like many other smartphones, it’s got two cameras — VGA on the front as well as a 5-megapixel back-facing brother — but they’re not the greatest. The few shots I took looked washed out, a bit grainier than I would have liked. But as far as camera phones go, they’ll get the job done.

But let’s be honest. Cameras aren’t the reason you’re buying this phone. It’s a gamer’s toy, and bells and whistles like front-facing cameras should be judged with that in mind.

Our verdict after a week with the Play?

Game on.

Wired: Unskinned version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) makes us happy. Sturdy hardware stands up to a frustrated gamer’s kung-fu grip.

Tired: Lacks 720p video recording capability, now a standard in smartphone releases. Wireless data is slower 3G standard, not 4G. Only one PlayStation title available at launch.

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